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Turnovers, missed free throws doom Northern Illinois

DeKALB – Turnovers were sparse in the Northern Illinois basketball team’s one-point win Saturday against San Jose State, and NIU free throws were finding their way through the basket at a much higher rate than they had in the Huskies’ first two games.

Neither could be said for Sunday’s 82-69 loss to Milwaukee on Sunday, the finale of the three-day NIU Invitational.

After leading by double digits for much of the first half, the Huskies (1-3) hit 17 of 28 free throws, missing several down the stretch, and turned the ball over 17 times in a game that was close throughout.

“I thought we lost the game [Sunday] on those 17 turnovers,” Montgomery said. “[Saturday] we had nine, We want to keep it under 12. Seventeen hurt us today in big moments … It’s frustrating but we can learn from it, we can practice harder this week, not on just free throws, I thought we had some uncontested shots against the zone that you have to make, and we left some points on the floor.”

The Huskies had a different player lead them in scoring each day of the round-robin invitational, and after center Jordan Threloff scored 17 points Saturday, Darrell Bowie took his turn by scoring 19 Sunday. 

Bowie had missed all of his 13 shots in the first two games of the invite after scoring 16 in the opener, but he started scoring early Sunday. 

“I was in a slump the past two games, but we’ve got an unbelievable family with coach and my teammates,” Bowie said. “They believed in me, they just kept talking to me at meetings this morning, just getting my head straight.”

Bowie scored seven of his game-high 19 points in the first 5:37, and the Huskies jumped out to an 18-5 lead over the Panthers, who beat San Jose State and James Madison in their first two games of the tournament.

But the high-flying offensive play didn’t last, and the Panthers (3-1) closed out the half on a 26-11 run to take a 35-32 lead.

“Unbelievable start to the game,” Montgomery said. “We got out right away and got into an offensive rhythm, we got stops, we got running, and they tried to slow us down with their 2-3 zone and we got a little stagnant. They started making plays and we didn’t respond.”

NIU kept the game close, with Threloff’s pair of free throws pulling the Huskies to 69-65 with 4:17 remaining, but for the third time in four games, the Huskies couldn’t close out a tight game.

Five Milwaukee players scored in double figures, and the Panthers pulled away while the Huskies committed 10 second-half turnovers. Montgomery seems happy with his team’s depth, but Bowie was the only scorer in double figures Sunday.

Having a few more players cross the 10-point threshold may go a long way to success this season.

“We want to kind of be like Milwaukee, having multiple players in double figures. I always envision that we have four or five,” Montgomery said. “A coupe of more made baskets, Threloff makes a layup, Dontel [Highsmith] makes a layup, they have 10, 11 points, it looks better. We have no stars. We’re a team that any given day or any given night, it could be your opportunity to step up and make plays. I can live with that. We’re going to be dangerous to scout and beat when multiple guys have good days.”

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